In her own words, Claudette Young is an infrequent gardener here at Poetic Bloomings. Personally, I’ll take her words and works anytime I can get them. I refer to Clauds as my “wise and wonderful friend.” It is very much my pleasure to bring her to the spotlight today.
The poem I chose to share with you is entitled The Alley. Clauds says it really needs to be read aloud with a southern accent for effect. So butter your grits, and head south to The Alley.
In the south, where the moss hangs heavy
and rivers run sluggish and deep,
there forms an atmosphere of anticipation
during summer afternoons as heat rises from
withered grasses and wilting willows.
Life begins storing breath deep inside itself,
knowing that danger walks on one twisted leg
where hot meets cold and sparks night-time fireworks.
Eagle-eyed watchers take up their positions,
idling power always ready for use.
“Soon,” sighs the first faint whisper of breeze.
“Wait for it,” echoes the building cloudbank.
Soon the cow birds disappear into sheltered hide-aways;
herds amble toward circled safety in numbers.
“Almost here,” breathes a quicker cousin of the soft breeze.
Quiet begins as sickly yellow cloud commandeers sky;
color tells the tale, warns the wary, and stands firm.
Waiting blackness that flows brings first hail;
Experience sees peas and then marbles.
The time has arrived to descend to security.
Hours of howling winds and piercing rain
lash the land, proclaiming dominion over all.
Then, silence announces completion, an end.
Life releases its collective breath, emerging to survey
a world scoured clean, ready for renewal.
In contrast to the The Alley, our guest chose Walking the Forest of Thought as the poem she feels best represents her own style and spirit.
Walking the Forest of Thought
Big ideas stand as Sequoyahs
Reaching, stretching ever skyward
For expanding distant stars, while
Rooted in detritus of past dreams.
Memory’s chainsaw of vision
Reduces giants to toothpicks for
Use as cleaners of baby teeth called
Expectations, never caring
That clear-cutting leads to later floods,
Or landslides of obsessive dream,
To replants after denuding,
To secure a healthier forest.
CLAUDETTE: This is a poem which reflects my thoughts on the process of writing and the process of my life. I chose it because this is how I think many days, hence some of my difficulty in writing for mass audiences. I think much of the time in metaphor. Thinking in literal terms is hard for me.
MARIE ELENA: This choice and your reasoning behind it have me nodding my head in agreement. I cannot think of a better representation of your very core. This confirms what I always tell you: you think poetically.
I discovered a quote in your Claudsy’s Calliope blog that I find very intriguing, and very YOU: “I took up writing at the age of 12. I gave up writing to be a “Real Person” during my early adulthood and middle years. Then I learned what “real” actually meant to me and began writing again. Using words set me free. Making sentences, that’s the hard part.” Something tells me we could spend the entire interview exploring this alone. What did you discover about being a “real person,” and how and when did you discover it?
CLAUDETTE: Being a “real person” to me means living for your own goals, your own aspirations, rather than constantly striving to accede to another’s intentions for you. For instance, most of my life my parents—but particularly my father—dictated how I ran my life.
I made choices based on two things: actions that would be approved of by my parents, or actions that rebelled against the choices that I thought would have been made by my parents. Truthfully, I tried to please at all times because it was less of a hassle and fight.
I did everything I could to remain in approval mode. After my mother’s death, I went corporate. I’d just finished my Master’s program, having completed two Bachelor’s degrees and a double Master’s program in four years. During those four years, I’d dealt with learning how to function with almost no usable sight, a grandparent at death’s door, a brother that almost died, and my mother’s terminal cancer. Stress had become my middle name.
When I went corporate, I placed myself in an even more stressful environment that kept promoting me because I was good at what I did. That is, until I wasn’t any longer. The pace, expectations, corporate plans for me, etc. took me to my own death’s door. I refused to go quietly. I fought the verdict, broke with the corporate world, and fled.
For nearly twenty years, I worked to become myself, without falling back into the trap of living for someone else’s dictates. I finally managed to do that, and began writing for myself in 2008. I refuse to look back and apologize for this decision.
MARIE ELENA: This response is gripping, and very telling. You must look back sometimes in wonder at how you survived the stress.
It does not surprise me that your rich corporate background and eagerness to please brought you to a sense of what being “real” means to you. What do you do to implement what you discovered?
CLAUDETTE: I remind myself each day that I have my own purpose on this earth, separate from what others might believe or want. I’ve been given a choice of how to live.
MARIE ELENA: On writing, you say, “It’s an itch that I must scratch.” I’m sure many (all?) of us here can relate to that! Since you caught the writing bug at the age of 12, how has the way you scratched that itched changed through the years?
CLAUDETTE: I was much freer when I was young. I experimented with all sorts of forms. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t write a perfectly good adult romance novel at age 12. I still like that story. It was the same with my first play at age 11. I have since learned what a framed story is, and still write that way at times.
When I was in medical recovery after corporate life, I wrote an epic SF fantasy novel and its sequel. NaNoWriMo would have loved me with that first one. Five hundred and twelve pages in three weeks. I was on a role. Naturally, it was rejected, but with an editor’s personal comments rather than a form rejection. I was then offered a second chance for a literary agency. That terrified me.
Now, I’ve learned enough to be fearful for different reasons. I’m not as free with my writing as when I was young. I’ve only recently begun experimenting with more and different forms and genres. My growth as a “real person” is making another surge forward, though. I’ve come to a point in my study of the industry where the fear of rejection doesn’t come around as much anymore. I may still know that I have plenty to learn and I’m not “the bomb,” but I know I can write.
I can’t stop writing. Even when I am washing dishes or talking to someone on the phone, ideas pop in for use in established stories, or as sparks for new ones.
MARIE ELENA: I can relate to that, and I’d like to know why it seems that the creative juices flow at the most inopportune times. 😉
Your writing ranges from children to adult, fiction to non, documentary to poetry. What is your favorite genre, and what are your publication aspirations?
CLAUDETTE: Oddly enough, I’ve had more success with both non-fiction and poetry than with fiction, memoir or essay. I love writing poetry and kick myself each day for not taking enough time for it. I have four books of poetry that I’m working on at present. “Moon Sees All,” “A Forest Primeval,” “Ancient Reflections,” and “A View from Outside.”
But I’m also writing a women’s cozy mystery, “Dreamie’s Box,” and books stemming from a cross-country trek with my sister. Like I said before, I do keep busy.
I’ll never go back to technical writing as I did with corporate work. It’s far too rigid.
If I had to choose one genre, I’d have to say poetry, because it can be both non-fiction and fiction, depending on the subject matter and approach. Poetry has given me a new voice that I hadn’t before seriously explored.
MARIE ELENA: Quite impressively, your formal adult education ranges from completion of a writing course at The Institute for Children’s Literature to a double BS/double MS from Ball State University in psychology, sociology and gerontology. Tell me, do these lines intersect?
CLAUDETTE: I’m a life-long student. Learning is as necessary for me as breathing. As to intersection, oh yes, they do intersect quite well. When I was teaching back in the nineties, I used much of what I did during university studies to relate material to students.
It’s the same for working with writing now. Things that I learned back then – ways of thinking – correlate nicely with methods of writing, researching, etc. I had to work on many research projects, including a massive survey for a foreign government and an annual national survey done each autumn in the U.S.
Because I had to master the art of creating specific types of questioning techniques for those needs, I’ve been able to utilize the knowledge for interviews now. Maybe it’s a quirk of how my mind works, but that training also changed how I looked at information and its use. That impacts my research now, whether for children’s or adults’ articles. It also gives me more freedom at times regarding how stories come together.
There’s an old saying that “Information is power.” It does have power to lead the writer into many arenas she wouldn’t otherwise have explored.
MARIE ELENA: You are not one to shy away from a challenge. For instance, writing not just a sestina, but an entire book (“Moon Sees All,” mentioned above) written in sestina form. I marvel at this feat, and I’m sure my sestina-loving Walt is fairly glowing with pride in you right now. What do you feel is your biggest writing challenge, and how do you go about conquering it?
CLAUDETTE: My biggest writing challenge is slowing down. Strange, huh. I’ve written about it. I have trouble preventing myself from haring off onto new projects without finishing those already waiting on the boards. Some would call that “flighty,” I suppose.
I’ve been giving serious attention to that tendency in the past few weeks. I have dozens of articles, stories, and poems sitting on my hard drive, waiting for a new home. Some are ready for submission, others need some TLC before leaving home. I try to take one piece every day or so, get it ready to submit, and take the time to find at least three potential markets for it before sending it out. My goal is to submit at least three pieces each week.
The one thing I need in my writing life right now is control. I seemed to have lost that somewhere and am having trouble reclaiming my former position as CEO of my own budding career. I’m determined to take back that chair at the head of the conference table.
MARIE ELENA: Subbing at least three pieces each week? Thanks for the kick in the seat of the pants, my friend. I need to take up that challenge. And speaking of facing challenges, let’s talk about that cross-country trek with your sister (and photographer), Jo. (See BJJones Photography.)
CLAUDETTE: Jo and I went on the road for five months to see as much of the country as possible. We wanted to take a year to see all of those places we’d never seen, while we tent camped and made a photo diary of the adventure.
Instead, another major economic shift occurred, which forced gas prices to skyrocket, as well as those campsites we’d researched so arduously for months. On top of the financial crunch, the country experienced aberrant winter weather like few had ever seen. Pitching a tent in water-logged ground isn’t advisable. We ended up sleeping in the car most of the time.
We’d left in mid-December for the southern climes and were chased by heavy storms and cold throughout the South. We managed to travel through twenty states, but enjoyment was low on our agenda. We saved our strength for keeping warm, dry and safe.
MARIE ELENA: Yes, I remember it well! Kate and Lynn (a couple of mutual [and talented] friends of ours at the Institute of Children’s Literature Writers Retreat) kept an online map of your whereabouts and trials at the time. It certainly kept me in prayer for you and Jo!
CLAUDETTE: We saw and learned things about our country that we might not have learned any other way. By the time we returned to Montana the next May, we were tired, discouraged, and flailing to find purchase somewhere stable and unmoving. Yet, because of those experiences, we discovered how many blessings operate.
Rather than have one travel book about places and sightseeing, we ended up with several books. The first is entitled “Failures to Blessing: Finding the Silver Lining.” It speaks to the positive results of our trip’s failures, those results that have long-reaching impact on our lives. The second book is tentatively entitled “Blessings to Potentials: Building on Silver Linings.” This takes those blessings and others and projects how those impacts are played out in our lives. The third volume brings the reader back to the beginning and entitled “Potentials to Futures: Realizing the Power of Blessings.” One last book will be written which acts as a more visual account of our journey toward realization through the photos and stories behind the photos that were taken during our trip.
Those should keep us both occupied for a while.
MARIE ELENA: Indeed, it should!
(All images courtesy of BJJONES PHOTOGRAPHY)
MARIE ELENA: In keeping with the topic of challenges you’ve faced: as mentioned above, you have extremely limited eyesight. This has got to wreak havoc on a writer. I knew of your condition, but I’ve never heard you complain even once. Do you mind telling your story?
CLAUDETTE: I don’t mind, Marie. Mine is genetically based. The men carry the gene, evidently, and the women manifest the condition. All but one of my aunts on my father’s side are blind, and that aunt has had a few eye surgeries of her own. Our retinas don’t like to remain attached to the walls of the eyes, and the maculae break down easily. Most of us were under the age of twenty when the first retinal detachment occurred.
I do a lot of reading with very strong spectacles, and according to the font size, sometimes a strong magnifying glass as well. The computer, while it tires the eyes and causes them to dry out easily, helps quite a bit because it puts me in control of font size. Websites and emails are a bear sometimes because servers think everyone has eagle eyes and brings fonts down to 8.5 to 10pt size.
With Windows 7, though, I can teach my machine to read to me whatever is on screen and to take dictation just like Dragon. I don’t have time to do that right now, so I keep plugging along as I do things now.
The thing that chokes me most of the time is not being able to read as fast as I used to or not being able to scan screens for specific words or phrases. That slows down my processing abilities and causes everything to take longer to do. I feel terribly slow and clumsy most of the time. I keep thinking I’m supposed to catch on instantly, see something instantly on a crowded page, and that kind of thing. Self-defeating, I know, but that’s how my psych works most of the time.
MARIE ELENA: I know you are a woman of faith, and it shows in your strength through adversity.
CLAUDETTE: I’ve had my own experiences surrounding faith. There have been literal and timely answers to prayer. There have been dreams which bring me up to wakefulness in panic at the messages I was given. Each of these instances deepen my faith, but at the same time cause me to question my ultimate purpose on this world. When you’re told what you’re supposed to be doing, and that vocation is so antithetical to what you believe yourself to be, a chasm of apprehension arises. I’m still staring into the chasm.
MARIE ELENA: As with all my interviewees, my final question is this: If we could know only one thing about you, what would it be … and why?
CLAUDETTE: I’d tell them that I’m a very shy person inside and that what people see is a self-protection shield. I don’t trust easily or like to be in the limelight. Self-promotion is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to attempt in the last five years.
I’ll tell you a short story here. I realized when I was in grade school that when we went to visit my dad’s family in another state, I would stand back and watch each person greeting us. Usually it was only my grandparents since we’d arrive there in the middle of the night. Displaying affection toward these almost-strangers didn’t happen for me.
I couldn’t allow myself to do that or accept their affection toward me. I had to make sure of them first. I had to know that these were the same people whom I’d known during the last visit. Only then could I relax and blend into the family picture.
For the most part, I’m still that way. If I’ve been apart from someone, caution rules at the next meeting until I know that I can still trust them. I watch and listen, and then I make a move forward or back. Few people know that about me.
MARIE ELENA: If there is one common thread that I am discovering in the interviewer’s seat, it is that Poetic Bloomings is populated with extraordinary people who walk with grace and strength through exceptionally trying times. You are no exception, dear friend. Thank you for carving time from your taxing schedule to give us a glimpse of your strength and inspiration.
You may find more of Claudette Young at:
http://claudsy.blogspot.com/ (Claudsy’s Calliope)
http://trailinginspirations.wordpress.com/ (Trailing Inspirations)
http://claudsy.wordpress.com/ (Claudsy’s Blog [wordpress])
Sampling of published works:
Yahoo News/Associated Content (Travel, op-ed, children’s story, Yahoo Writer Style Book)
SuperTeacher Worksheets (Math Word Problems and quizzes, incorporating reading comprehension with problem solving and logic skills)
Sea Giraffe Magazine [online] (Poetry pending release date)
Soft Whispers Magazine [online] (Poetry)
The River Literary Journal [online] (Poetry)
Small River Stones Journal [online] (Poetry)
Prompted: An International Collection of Poems (Poetry Anthology)
My Friend, Smories and other online magazines (Children’s stories)
ICL Newletter (Articles for children’s writers)